Dizz Tate is the author of Brutes, a Winter/Spring 2023 Indies Introduce selection.
Tate is a writer currently living in London, after growing up in Orlando. Her fiction has been published in The Stinging Fly, Five Dials, The Tangerine, PRISM international, 3:AM magazine, No Tokens Journal, and Corda, amongst others. She won the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2018. Her debut pamphlet of short stories Nowhere to go but back again was published by Goldsmiths Press in 2018. Her first novel Brutes will be published by Faber and Catapult in early 2023.
Alyssa Raymond of Copper Dog Books in Beverley, Massachusetts served on the panel that selected Tate’s debut for Indies Introduce. Raymond said of the book, “An enthralling, kaleidoscopic, and bold vision of girlhood unlike anything I’ve read before. With exhilarating lyricism, a unique ‘we’ perspective, and an atmospheric blend of longing, humor, vulnerability, and beauty, Brutes kept me spellbound from start to finish.”
Here, Tate and Raymond discuss Brutes.
Alyssa Raymond: How did your own experiences inspire you to write Brutes and influence your choice of setting, story, and characters?
Dizz Tate: I grew up in the Orlando suburbs, moving there when I was nine from the suburbs of North London, which was, in terms of color palette, like moving from a black-and-white world to a technicolor one. As a kid, everything is a mystery anyway, but living there, I did have a lot of questions — how does this place exist? Why am I here? Why is everyone smiling and there’s an alligator in the lake behind my house and how is it a normal job to dress up as a mouse that no one’s allowed to say isn’t real? What the hell is going on?
I also found the experience of growing up in Orlando very beautiful and strange and wonderful, and I love it in the unrequited way you love the ex that leaves you (my family were on temporary visas for a decade so when I turned eighteen, I had to come back to England). To put it politely, I was a bit of an oddball as a kid, and never very relaxed. If I made a friend, I loved them so intensely I quickly wrung them dry. I was lonely, I lied a lot, I didn’t know how to be. When I started seventh grade, a girl asked me to sit at lunch with her at a rowdy table, and I still remember the moment so clearly, the relief, the absolute joy of the years after. They were a brilliant group of girls and boys, creative and sharp and kind and relentless and unforgiving and loving and fearless. I’ve never stopped thinking about those first years of friendship; they were the beginning of my life as a person. Being so loud and obnoxious and shy and scared at once. I loved the tension between being powerful and powerless, between marching blindly into a world as if we owned it while understanding it not at all. It was funny and scary and in some ways my life became more of a retreat after as I knew more, a wiser person but not necessarily as free.
AR: Brutes explores familiar themes, experiences, and feelings of being a teenager — both individually and collectively — in such a unique way. What was your approach to writing Brutes that would set it apart from other coming-of-age novels?
DT: I think I mined my own experiences. I was also working as a teaching assistant in a secondary school in Birmingham here in the UK, and being around teenagers probably fed into the overall atmosphere in the book. I didn’t really think of it in terms of other novels, though I was definitely influenced by many, of course, but I think for me it was just a process of writing and writing until I’d described something that felt true to me, true to what I experienced, true to what I saw. I didn’t want to condescend to the teenage experience, just wanted to write something that somehow represented the absurdity and immensity of emotions felt for the first time. That is how I ended up in present-tense. I wanted it to be a novel of beginnings, a novel of experience not memory, because that’s how I remember thirteen being, this sense of being alive and noticing it for the first time. By the time I was fourteen, fifteen, my experiences were already more sentimentalized by memory, but thirteen for me felt like a rush into a new life that was like being born.
I also wanted to reflect the joy and the pain of being part of a group; the overwhelming desire to be included, the fear of being left behind. There’s friendship, there’s favoritism. Everything is political, every social movement imitated, noticed. You’re strong as a collective, you’re afraid of being alone. It’s a fun place to write about.
AR: Brutes offers a realistic portrayal of girlhood that is also dark, unsettling, strange, and lyrical. In what ways did you integrate Southern Gothic elements into your novel?
DT: I love the Southern Gothic style, maybe it feels the most familiar to me about Florida where I was raised. I think when you grow up in Florida, it almost feels like an unbelievable place. The lovely swamp. The beauty of it all. And the danger. It feels like a party being thrown at the end of the world. I like Southern Gothic more than some realism, although I like both. It feels sometimes to me like realism unpicks consciousness and thought, but it misses the dream-state, the unconsciousness, that sticky mystery beneath the daily reality of life. Realism feels like recognition, revealing, understanding, but Southern Gothic to me points out that nothing can ever be understood, it’s a gesture never an explanation. I feel like there’s an unsettling place in every story and book I really love that defies articulation, and I crave that place more than anything else when I read.
AR: How did you balance the meaning of “brutes” with the complexities of girlhood and these individual characters?
DT: I used the word ‘brute’ a lot in my early stories. I like the word, how stompy and boot-like it is. It’s a word that’s trying very hard for me in a way that makes me distrust it. It seems to be overcompensating, like, look at me, I’m a mean word! It was also something I got called once when I was young. When I was a kid, I felt like everything I was naturally drawn to was wrong in some way. No one told me so directly, I just felt it to be true. I questioned everything about myself. Especially being a girl, I felt sure there was a right way of being one that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get. I felt like I was always being asked to take a test I hadn’t prepared for. So the idea of being a brute, it felt like the opposite of what a thirteen year old girl was meant to be, and felt like the worst thing someone could call me at that age; but, looking back, it stuck in my mind, because even as it felt disarming, it was also somewhat of an admiring admission of power.
AR: What is your writing process like in terms of working on Brutes and any future projects?
DT: I try and write a little everyday. I was a waitress for a long time, and that schedule worked well for me, writing in the mornings and then working nights. I think I work better when I’m interacting with a lot of people, strangers. People are always so much more weird and brilliant and funny than I can make up. I tend to write a lot — it takes me a long time to find the story, and then I’ll rewrite and rewrite and rewrite from start to finish, picking out single images and getting rid of the rest. The best advice I ever got was that nothing is wasted work. It’s easy to get disheartened, but I find if I keep my brain humming along, I’ll always get something out of it, even if I don’t use a single word, that day’s work will take me to an idea two years later. And when I get sad and I’m broke and I don’t know what to do, I remember how much I love this act of imagining something out of nothing, that it sometimes feels like the most honest part of my day. It’s painful and it’s a relief and it’s boring and it’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever known. I also think it’s important to write, in the beginning, as if you are your only reader, because you’re also your own harshest critic. Make something that has meaning for you, that makes you feel less lonely, that’s embarrassing and funny and longing and weird as hell. Someone else will probably like it then, too.
Brutes by Dizz Tate (Catapult, 9781646221677, Hardcover Fiction, $27) On Sale: 2/7/2023.
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